Coming off a celebrated season — during which the Lady Conchs won the program’s first district title in a three-decade span as well as make region semifinals for the first time in school history — the Key West High girls basketball team has the pieces once again — having graduated just two players from that squad — now it’s just a matter of putting them all in their proper place, which to coach Shonta McLeod’s surprise has been tougher than she expected.
Thus far, injuries to a pair of projected starters, the absence of a team leader due to a family trip as well as the fact games have been canceled with a lack of referees in Miami-Dade County, has left Key West looking to gel before their first game of the season — which will come nearly two weeks after a majority of the rest of the state has tipped off.
“We are trying to get a starting five together and get it gelled and truthfully, with everything going on, I don’t mind we haven’t gotten started yet this season,” McLeod said as Key West will open its 2021-22 campaign on Tuesday, Nov. 30, at SLAM Academy. “It has been tough but with this extra time, I think it will help us get everything together and we are not working our way there.”
A major reason for the Lady Conchs’ slowed start to the season is the fact senior point guard Mohina Rahkmonova was out of the country and did not return until October.
“There was a lot of stuff we needed to work on, but she’s getting back into the groove and is looking like she is ready to get rocking and rolling,’ said McLeod.
While Rahkmonova will be Key West’s primary ball handler, she will be joined up top by Emily Tran, who has missed a portion of the preseason with an injury, and Aubrey Hunter. But that is about as far the Lady Conchs’ guards extend this season.
The remainder of the Key West roster is made up of forwards, including fourth-year senior starter Jenkavia Harper, who will be playing a swing position, shifting from a spot on the post to potentially as the team’s second ball handler.
“Jenkavia has been working hard the whole summer and has improved a lot, to where she would be scoring double-digits this year,” said McLeod. “Where she is playing each game will really depend on who we are playing. She really has the ability to play both of those roles.
“They are excited being it’s their senior year,” the coach continued about Rahkmonova and Harper. “We are working with them to get them recruited, but their leadership is there and that’s going to be important for us.
Early in the season, Harper will likely take on more of a role playing down low, as the Lady Conchs project center Olivia Gibson has also missed significant practice time, having rolled her ankle at the start of November.
“She practiced all summer long, so for her to get this injury was a bit shocking, because she will be a major key to our offense and defense this season,” said McLeod, who noted Gibson has been working on shooting at practices with her limited mobility.
Also stepping into a potential stating position down low will be Miesha Hernandez, who McLeod noted will “help a lot,” but with only eight players on the roster and five of those listed as a forward — including Ziamora Cartwright and Trecia Whitstone — the Conchs coach also explained she will have to keep a good rotation going this season as some may need to see time at the 3 or even up top.
“It’s just a matter of getting them to gel together,” said McLeod.
That may be tough to find that court time together, as the Conchs are already down to just 16 games on the schedule after several contests had to be postponed or canceled after a disagreement between referees and the Greater Miami Area Conference left Dade County without any officials.
That just means a majority of the games for Key West, which is still having trouble getting teams to make the trip three-plus-hours south, will be on extended road trips.
“Most of our games are back-to-back-to-back,” said McLeod, pointing out that her squad will finally tip the season in Miami, before taking on Marathon the next day and then traveling to the west coast of Florida for a pair of games, all in the first week. “It’s a real tough schedule for them.”
Despite the number of hours on the bus together, McLeod is hoping that works in a positive way for her team as the biggest concern as they enter the season is coming together as a unit, as the long-tome Conchs coach is hoping all that travel helps them bond. With the likes of Gulliver — who Key West beat in the district semifinals a year ago, St. Brendan, who they beat in the finals, along with Killian, SLAM, and Keys Gate, McLeod expressed that earning a second-straight district crown — which comes also with an automatic bit to the FHSAA State playoffs — will not come easy but also conveyed her team was not a top seed last year when the historic postseason run began.
“I’ve explained that the more teams we beat the better chance we have to be a higher seed, but it could also help us get back in being we are on a similar point system again this year,” said McLeod. “It’s going to be rough and tough with the schedule we do have this year, but even if we are a low seed — as long as we are there we have that shot do it again.”